Portland artist Zoo Cain lost more than 100 pieces of artwork in a fire that caused extensive damage to his Valley Street studio and gallery, but he was thankful that most of the works he has created weren’t in the building and that no one was hurt in the fire that displaced 10 people.

Cain still has a place to live and has thousands of pieces of his artwork at other locations or on display at businesses throughout greater Portland. The 66-year-old artist, who was profiled in a 2017 documentary, is best known for making kaleidoscopic abstract paintings on hard, flat surfaces. He also slices up old license plates and uses the letters and numbers to make statements. Cain estimates he has completed more than 10,000 works of art.

Cain said he has not lived in the three-story apartment building at 274 Valley Street since he moved into his new home in Westbrook on Dec. 1.

Though he still worked out of the Valley Street studio, he primarily used the space for storage. The fire also destroyed a bedroom, kitchen and guest room in his third-floor apartment, as well as dozens of books he had collected over the years.

He’s just grateful that everyone who lived in the building made it out alive. At the time of the fire, he was a watching a movie called “Isle of Dogs” at the Nickelodeon Cinemas in downtown Portland. His daughter, Hosannah Cousineau, found out about the fire, drove to the theater, and pulled him out of the show.

“When we got to Valley Street I almost collapsed. It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Cain said. “I was devastated.”


Though he lost a lot of artwork, he was able to salvage some pieces, which were covered in soot and smelled of smoke.

“It was disastrous, but it could have been a lot worse,” Cain said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. “If the fire had happened at 2 in the morning it could have been deadly.”

The American Red Cross said that it had to find housing for 10 people displaced by the fire.

Fire Department Captain John Brennan issued a press release Wednesday that said all of the building’s tenants escaped safely, but two Portland firefighters were taken to Maine Medical Center. One was treated for heat exhaustion and the other had a minor injury.

Brennan said investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire, but said it originated outside the building on a second-floor balcony.

The Valley Street fire was reported at 5:01 p.m. Wednesday, less than two hours after fire crews had responded to a fire at a two-family apartment on 41 Alder Street. Brennan said the Alder Street fire was caused by the improper disposal of smoking materials.


Cain said he will recover from Wednesday’s fire and eventually hopes to open his own, free-standing gallery.

Though Cain will sorely miss some of the pieces lost in the fire, he was taking a philosophic outlook on the loss.

“When you are 66 years old, you can’t get too attached to anything,” he said. “You just have to keep on motoring through it.”

A friend, Carolyn Hawkins, created a fundraising page on gofundme.com to help Cain with fire expenses.

“Our dear friend Zoo Cain is a great and brave man who has helped a lot of people and is an inspiration to so many,” Hawkins wrote in a post. “Now he has had much of his studio and its contents wiped out by a fire that started in the building’s lower floor.”

Hawkins’ campaign had raised nearly $1,000 toward its $5,000 goal as of Wednesday night.

Portland artist Zoo Cain, seen in 2015, said Tuesday’s fire caused extensive damage to his Valley Street studio and gallery, but he was thankful that no one got hurt. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald file)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.